Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright
The Titans want Jake Locker to scramble smarter, using good judgment and avoiding unnecessary contact, says David Climer of The Tennessean. "You have to understand what the situation of the game is -- if 2 or 3 yards is worth it or not," Locker said. "You have to be conscious of that before you go to the line of scrimmage."
The Titans periodically play a snap of defense with all 11 players standing up. John Glennon talked to Derrick Morgan and Jurrell Casey about how it works.
Kendall Wright is on the All-Underrated Team and Michael Roos is on the All-Declining Team, per Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.
Who are the most indispensable Titans? I’m surprised by Climer’s choice at No. 3, though the case can be made.
Bernard Pollard was put off by Johnny Manziel’s middle finger to the Washington bench, says Jim Wyatt.
Zach Mettenberger has played more snaps in the preseason than any rookie quarterbacks except Teddy Bridgewater and Manziel, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster will get return chances at some point in the next two preseason games, says Joe Fann of the Titans website.
Yes, receiver Justin Hunter and quarterback Jake Locker are blazers. But beyond them, in their first season post-Chris Johnson, not many of their players shock you when they open up and run.
It turns out they may be faster than I thought.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland pieces together a way to measure team speed -- looking at primary skill-position players, using combine 40 times adjusted for age.
It’s inexact, but it’s as good as any approach we could assemble.
Much to Barnwell’s amazement, and mine, the Titans are the fastest team in the NFL by these measures.
The Titans are actually above-average at nine of the 10 positions in this lineup; only Bernard Pollard (4.73 age-adjusted 40-yard dash) is below-average at his respective spot, while the likes of Jake Locker (4.57) and Justin Hunter (4.46) are among the fastest players at their positions. Tennessee also has the fastest pair of cornerbacks in the league with Jason McCourty (4.40) and Coty Sensabaugh (4.37) booked to start.
In addition to those guys, Barnwell used Bishop Sankey, Jackie Battle, Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker and Michael Griffin.
Lack of quarterback speed drags down some of the top offenses and teams in the NFL. Denver (28), New Orleans (30) and New England (32) don’t fare well at all in this metric.
Speed may not matter as much as we tend to think. Philadelphia may be the most clever, modern offense in the NFL and the Eagles are 23rd here.
Tennessee will be more inventive on offense with Ken Whisenhunt calling the plays. Hopefully for the Titans, Hunter will run past people, Locker can hurt defenses when he takes off and speedy corners McCourty and Sensabaugh can help limit deep balls.
Speed can still kill. Since the Titans have it, they need to show how.
I am here to say we should throw the idea of accepting fewer catches in the name of spreading things out right out the window.
Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is the Titans' other best player. In a camp setting, it’s a lot harder for a lineman to stand out than a receiver.
Wright is the Titans' best player right now, by a good margin.
He’s caught everything thrown to him, by whichever quarterback, over whichever defender, against whatever coverage.
I like the Titans' overall weaponry. Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, Delanie Walker, Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey offer a nice serving plate of solid options in addition to Wright.
But Wright is 1A, very much at the top of the list, his name absolutely in capital letters.
Make them bold, too.
- The offense played a lot better than it did on Monday, with Jake Locker throwing three red-zone TD passes a day after he was shut out. There was still some sloppiness. Jackie Battle dropped two passes, and Taylor Thompson dropped one. Shonn Greene had a fumble, though he didn’t run the customary punishment lap which may have been because it was ruled to happen after the whistle (though there isn’t really a whistle).
- In seven-on-seven work Charlie Whitehurst connected with Michael Preston on a deep ball over cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson. I’ve noted before that Whitehurst has put a lot of air under a lot of his deep stuff. This one was more of a line drive.
- Kendall Wright continues to look amazing. It looks as if his confidence is as high as possible, and anything thrown near him is practically a sure thing. I hit him several times on Instagram.
- Justin Hunter also had several good catches, beating Jason McCourty on a go route and going up easily over Tommie Campbell in the back right corner of the end zone in red zone 1-on-1s.
- Bishop Sankey ran more authoritatively than he did a day earlier, when he fumbled a couple times. He had two live goal-line chances from the 2-yard line. The first was debatable -- I wasn’t sure he got in, he said he’s biased but admitted it needed a tape review. He was stuffed pretty quickly on a second snap.
- Both sides were feisty. Bernard Pollard and Nate Washington had an extened back-and-forth hollering at each other, as did Daimion Stafford and Leon Washintgon. Washington told Stafford, “You can’t hit me” to which Stafford replied “You’re too little.” That exchange was repeated several times. Linebacker David Gilbert, back after a stretch out with a shoulder injury, flung tight end Chase Coffman to the ground to start a fight that spilled over. The Gilbert-Coffman dustup wasn’t anything beyond ordinary but leaked into a couple different shoving matches.
- Right after that scrap, Anderson picked off Zach Mettenberger in the back right corner of the end zone. Anderson's been making some plays, but also gets beat. He seems like an all-or-nothing type at this point.
- Derek Hagan caught a mid-range pass near the numbers on the right side in between a lot of defenders. I feel like he’s consistently good at finding that space on that play or ones similar to it.
- It was a horrific day for the offense, which came out flat and had mistakes in every area you can think of. There were multiple drops, fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps. Ken Whisenhunt downplayed it as one bad day, and of course it was, but the degree of badness was alarming. Said receiver Derek Hagan, who dropped a pass near the end of practice “It was bad, we didn’t get anything going at all. It was a crazy day. Nobody was catching the ball, bad blocking, missed assignments. Just an overall bad day.”
- Shonn Greene had a fumble that Zach Brown recovered. Bishop Sankey fumbled twice, the first recovered by Brandon Copeland and the second bounced back to Sankey.
- Kendall Wright streaked across the middle to collect a Locker pass, beating Jason McCourty. Michael Preston made a nice catch over Coty Sensabaugh up the left side from Charlie Whitehurst. Taylor Thompson had a couple more nice plays.
- Jake Locker made a bad throw for Nate Washington in the right side of the end zone in red zone work. Tommie Campbell may have pushed off, but he easily collected the bad throw.
- Whitehurst threw a terrible pick as he looked for Marc Mariani to his right. The line drive throw was easily caught by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who was practically halfway between quarterback and his target. Perhaps the worst play of all on a terrible day.
- Daimion Stafford had a nice breakup of a throw for Mariani, whose helmet popped off in the process. Ri'Shard Anderson broke up a Zach Mettenberger dart for Hagan. Wreh-Wilson had a too-easy breakup of a Locker pass for Dexter McCluster. The defense made some plays, for sure. But more of the offensive failures were self-inflicted.
- Justin Hunter wore a jersey that said “J A G” across the back instead of “Hunter.” He said Whisenhunt and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson talked to him after he forgot to convert a route Saturday night. Hunter didn’t know they’d follow through with the jersey, but they did. He said he’ll continue to work to be more than “just a guy.”
- Hunter made a nice play in the middle of the field, winning a contested ball from Locker by taking it away from safety Michael Griffin.
- Among the targets with drops: Delanie Walker, Preston, Washington (who had a chance to recollect the ball on the sideline but bobbled it until his feet were out), Thompson, Hagan.
- Guard Andy Levitre said he played one game at center for the Bills against Miami and was bad at it. Whisenhunt reminded a questioner that he’d said in the past he intended to work Levitre a little at center to prepare a contingency. Now with Chris Spencer (ankle) out, it was the right time. Levitre said he lost focus and snapped as if the quarterback was under center a couple times when he wound up rolling balls past Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, they put starting center Brian Schwenke in with the third team to settle things down.
- Kickoffs: Maikon Bonani put one 9 yards deep and another 4 yards deep into the end zone. With less hang time, Travis Coons put one kickoff 4 yards deep. Coons also punted some.
The Tennessee Titans are lowly regarded by plenty of fans and media nationally. But they have a lot going on that they feel those people have not paid attention to.
With Ken Whisenhunt and his staff at the helm, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a schedule that doesn’t include some of the powers they faced a year ago and a division with two other rebuilding franchises, they might have a chance to surprise.
."You say each and every year, 'Feels different, feels different, feels different,'" safety Michael Griffin said. "Just, you can see every day, people out there talking, we always have guys picking people up. Each and every day there is competition. There are little side bets here and there -- who’s going to win this period and things of that nature. The whole time we’re all trying to get each other better.
"Again, it just feels so much different in this locker room, and everybody has the same goals in mind, and that’s a positive around here."
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
Whisenhunt had the connections and the interviewing skills to hire a staff that appears to be filled with strong teachers, including a few quality holdovers. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is turning the Titans into a less predictable 3-4 and comfortably works his way into different sections of practice when position work is unfolding. I've watched these coaches teach and I've seen them connect with players.
Whisenhunt may field a complex offense that's hard to defend, but he's good at keeping things simple. I don't see any changes in how the Titans function that aren't for the better at this point.
2. The Titans don’t have players the fans are going to pick to captain their fantasy squads, but Tennessee should have a good array of quality weapons on offense. Kendall Wright topped 1,000 yards in his second season, and now the team’s best receiver will be sent on a wider variety of routes, not just inside slot stuff. He's been excellent so far in camp. Justin Hunter is doing better getting his legs under him and is catching the ball more comfortably. He got behind Atlanta's defense a few times in the recent joint practice and should be a constant deep threat. Nate Washington is showing he remains a versatile, productive guy.
Beyond the receivers, tight end Delanie Walker and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey will be good pass-catching options. When the Falcons gave the Titans a lot of room underneath, Jake Locker hit McCluster with a pass over the middle, and he had a ton of space to take. The Titans have invested a great deal in their offensive line over the past two seasons. They have one more tackle than they need after signing Michael Oher and drafting Taylor Lewan. There should be better protection for the quarterback and better holes for the running backs.
3. The 4-3 defense in recent years lacked a star pass-rusher on the edge who an offense had to fear every snap. The Titans still don’t seem to have that guy. They have to find him, but even if he doesn’t emerge from this group, the overall production out of the pass rush should be better. Who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage? In the 4-3, opponents pretty much knew. In this 3-4, it won’t be nearly as clear on a regular basis. Jurrell Casey, who notched 10.5 sacks as a tackle last season, will work as an end now. He's worked on speed rushes off the edge as well as his bread-and-butter quick power stuff in camp.
Sure, some good quarterbacks can diagnose who is rushing and who isn’t, no matter the front. But outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (twice), the Titans don’t face any A-list quarterbacks coming off big 2013 seasons this time around. They don’t see Seattle and San Francisco this season either.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
1. Locker is a really likable guy who works hard, says the right things and desperately wants to prove he is the long-term answer for the Titans at quarterback. But in two seasons as the starter, he's missed 14 games while dealing with shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries. He's practiced pretty well, but there are plays splashed in that can be killers on a Sunday afternoon.
Getting 16 games out of him is hardly a certainty for the Titans. Even if they do and he fits well with what Whisenhunt is asking him to do, he has not been accurate or poised enough when he has played. He sometimes tries to do too much and isn’t poised under pressure. Though he moves well and is very fast, putting him on the move puts him at more risk of another injury. Behind him are more question marks. Charlie Whitehurst has had no real success in just 13 games in eight seasons and often fails to step into his throws. Rookie Zach Mettenberger has a great arm but slipped to the sixth round for several reasons and is rotating with Tyler Wilson as the third-team QB. (Update: Wilson was released Wednesday.)
2. The offensive weaponry looks good, but for those five pass-catchers to give the Titans the nice smorgasbord of options, they need to stay healthy. Also, guys like Hunter (second year), Sankey (a rookie) and McCluster (first year with the Titans and Whisenhunt) need to show that their potential and practice play translate into NFL Sundays in a Tennessee uniform. Wright was the best player on offense last season and should grow more. Can the others become known quantities?
Who is the star of the defense? DT-turned-DE Casey is a strong, quick rusher who was healthy and productive in 2013. He is going to land a big-money contract -- either soon from Tennessee or on the market next spring. There are some nice pieces around him, but the Titans need veterans to have their best seasons and youngsters to emerge, all simultaneously. In Georgia, no defender stood out and regularly gave the Falcons more than they could handle.
3. Forty-seven percent of the current 90-man roster has been in the league for two years or less. Youth is generally good, but it needs to be quality youth and it needs to be surrounded by quality veterans. The Titans lack experience in a lot of spots. There aren't kids in camp who weren't high picks but have forced their way up the depth chart to this point.
Maybe it’s a great mix of players and a good share of the inexperienced people can blossom together. But with new coaches and new schemes, it could be asking a lot for all that to happen in the first season.
- Locker said he feels more comfortable speaking up and being vocal, and he has shown himself to be more confident in how he carries himself. After one throw that looked to be too long for an undrafted rookie, Locker pointed to tell Julian Horton where he should have gone. He still has bad moments in practice, but the preseason has not started, and he is progressing.
- The Titans have moved running back Jackie Battle to fullback, where he can offer some needed versatility. He appears to have a sizable lead on incumbent Collin Mooney, who has had, at most, a handful of first-team snaps.
- Among long-shot late additions, veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been consistently good and Brian Robiskie is also gaining notice. He's competing for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots with Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. Maybe they'll keep six.
- Sankey is learning quickly how to be a pro, and he has shown a bit of everything the Titans said they expected when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. His first day in pads he looked like an experienced NFL-caliber pass protector. He has good vision and makes good decisions on when to go and when to cut. He also catches the ball well, can run inside and outside.
- Weakside outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has not worked at all with the first team when Kamerion Wimbley has been practicing.
- Tommie Campbell was politely mentioned with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a contender for the starting right cornerback spot that opened when Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay. But it’s a two-man competition, and Campbell has struggled horribly.
- The Titans got no one injured Monday in a joint practice with the Falcons at their facility, always the best development to come out of a preseason practice. Defensive linemen Antonio Johnson and Mike Martin and tight end Dorin Dickerson came in with injuries and didn’t practice.
- The first fight turned out to be the only big fight. It came as the Titans and Falcons worked on punt returns and Coty Sensabaugh swiped a helmet off Robert McClain and a lot of players from both teams came onto the scene to get involved. It may have settled itself down, but Tommie Campbell came flying in to shove two Falcons, Bernard Pollard got involved and Ri’Shard Anderson came in with helmet in hand and swung it into Atlanta’s Ricardo Allen “We got it over and out of the way and moved on,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We thought it might come, it came early and we settled down.” Whisenhunt doesn’t fine players for practice fights, but Anderson should be fined for a foolhardy and dangerous move.
- Later, Falcons center Joe Hawley got tossed by officials for his role in a smaller scrap with Michael Griffin.
- Whisenhunt was audibly upset when Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora hit Jake Locker’s arm on a pass. “He grabbed his arm, he hit his hand,” Whisenhunt said. “Osi apologized. He knows he can’t do that.”
- Marqueston Huff looked like he’s got the potential to be a quality gunner on punt returns. I saw him quickly burst between Kimario McFadden and Jordan Mabin to get en route in a hurry.
- On a very early snap in one-on-ones matching Titans defensive backs against Falcons receivers, Jason McCourty was right with Roddy White on a quick throw from Matt Ryan, got an arm in and watched the ball pop loose. Another pass for White with McCourty on him was overthrown. McCourty was very solid in that period. The rest of the defensive backs were not as good. Griffin drew two flags for contact. (Khalid Wooten made a nice play and had a near pick of a Jeff Matthews pass for Tramaine Thompson. I think Wooten is steadily improving though he's not playing against the high-caliber guys.)
- In one-on-ones, the Titans' offense connected on a big play early as Justin Hunter ran away from corner Robert McClain, collecting a throw from Charlie Whitehurst. Hunter caught another deep one from Zach Mettenberger.
- Locker didn’t throw deep much, as the Falcons seemed to be offering open stuff underneath far more often. Some plays worked great against it. Locker hit Kendall Wright out of the slot and Wright ran away from Josh Wilson for what would have been a touchdown. On another play, Dexter McCluster worked into open space in the short middle and had a ton of space from there. Whitehurst found room for some shots. One of them connected up the right side with Derek Hagan over corner Javier Arenas and safety Sean Baker.
- In many practices Locker still seems to have one moment that could be deadly. He held the ball and shuffled left as the pocket began to collapse and threw for Delanie Walker. But Desmond Trufant got to it and dropped what should have been a pick. “For any quarterback, there is always at least one you wish you could have back,” he said when I asked him about that specific play.
- Both of the Titans' kickers attempted field goals against the Falcons field goal defense from 33, 36, 39, 42 and 46 yards. Travis Coons made them all, Maikon Bonani missed his attempt from 46 wide right.
- Andy Levitre took three snaps in each team period before rookie Taylor Lewan replaced him. Levitre had his appendix removed on July 24. He still didn’t participate in the high contact one-on-one pass-rush drills.
- In one team period, the offense worked exclusively in “penny,” its three-cornerback, one-safety package.
- Falcons receiver Harry Douglas made a catch over Sensabaugh after the Falcons had the Titans jumping around before the snap. Derrick Morgan started with his hand down at left end, stood up and backed out, then returned to his initial position while multiple defenders shouted out multiple signals and waved each other around in what appeared to be confusion.
- Akeem Ayers made a couple plays, including batting down a pass from Sean Renfree. In one-on-ones he made a great spin move against tackle Lamar Holmes that got him to the quarterback. But in a seven-on-seven period, T.J. Yates threw to running back Devonta Freeman and Ayers had no chance against him in space.
- Avery Williamson impressively ran step for step with running back Josh Vaughan on a deep route and the pass glanced on the rookie linebacker’s helmet.
- Moise Fokou worked as high in the linebacker rotation as I can remember, pairing with Zaviar Gooden as the inside tandem with the second team at least some.
- On a snap where DaQuan Jones and Al Woods were the two defensive linemen, neither put a hand on the ground. The Titans played that one with everyone starting off standing up.
- On one snap of nickel where nose tackle Sammie Hill came off the field, the standing up, off-the-line outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley actually lined up inside of right end Jurrell Casey.
- There were a bunch of penalty flags on both sides. The most popular offense was illegal contact by defensive backs. The second biggest was offside. More to come on that
- It’s always amazing to see how many guys know each other when two rosters of 90 and their coaching staffs combine. Titans linebacker Zach Brown saw Yates and exclaimed, “T.J, what’s up buddy?” Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter chatted with Hagan. Falcons owner Arthur Blank got off his cart to hug Titans tight ends coach Mike Mularkey, who used to be Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. A lot of it was pre-practice, a lot was during the kicking period when non-special teamers had time to chat. I watched Chris Spencer and Griffin talk with Devin Hester as Pollard shouted to the Titans, “Y'all be careful with making friends right now.”
- Find pictures at pkuharsky on Instagram.
- The Titans are off Tuesday, then have an open practice at 9:20 a.m. CT Wednesday.
Paul Kuharsky: Everyone gets room and board. Above that, first-year players get $925 a week and veterans get $1,700 a week. That's from the first day of camp until one week before the regular-season opener. Then the Titans' pay structure is different than most of the NFL.
Paul Kuharsky: It's far too early to say. Performance in preseason games will be the biggest factor in Maikon Bonani's bid to beat out Travis Coons and replace Rob Bironas. Bonani has a huge leg. The question is accuracy. If they both tank, the Titans could still look outside. But not back to Bironas. Lots of kicker questions overall. I expect Bonani to emerge. I don't think they are thinking at all at this stage about any veteran outsider.
Paul Kuharsky: The way Tommie Campbell is playing right now, he doesn't look like an NFL player. But we have to allow for more time with coordinator Ray Horton and DB coach Louie Cioffi and some work sample in games. And we have to consider the alternatives. Even if Marqueston Huff passes Campbell, someone else would have to get ahead of him for the fifth corner spot. And if Campbell is on the roster, he's not playing on defense unless something goes terribly wrong, so he won't factor into passing yardage surrendered.
Paul Kuharsky: Nope. I'm going to presume they sound like a combination of John Facenda and Jack Buck, and thank you very much for the compliment. (At least I'm not a bad pigeon.)
Paul Kuharsky: He's competing for the fourth receiver slot. I don't know how that's overlooked or undervalued. There is no way he's better than Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter or Nate Washington. He's a very easy guy to root for, and I understand that popularity. He's a very likeable, hard worker who does the right things and had great size. He's also slow. I think some fans come close to overrating than underrating. I'd put Preston fifth right now, behind Marc Mariani and ahead of Derek Hagan, but not by much.
Paul Kuharsky: It's hard to pick just one. Kendall Wright has been fantastic. Campbell, as we've discussed, is struggling. Marini has also been very good. Tyler Wilson has also been very bad.
Paul Kuharsky: I don't understand why the corners would be slacking. They are playing for jobs and roles. You can't take plays off or let down in the situations they are in. Now, receivers are going to win a good share of plays. That's life in the NFL. But you make a play, you make a play.
He was not held to the same expectations for precision routes. Because he was a unique player who could get to the right spot at the right time, coaches gave him leeway in the means he took to get there.
But that has changed under Ken Whisenhunt and his staff.
The Titans also have asked Wright, who was 15 pounds lighter in his second season than his rookie year, to drop a bit more weight. He’s down to 184.
Is there a bit of risk in asking for two big changes from Wright when he caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards last year?
He’s adaptable, as he said, and I don’t foresee anything slowing his ascent.
He had that big season with the Titans not sending him deep very often and hardly looking to him in the red zone.
That should change under Whisenhunt, who believes those other changes will help, too.
Star power drives attention.
The Titans' last, biggest star was Chris Johnson. He was super-recognizable and still produced on a reasonable level. But his game last season was nothing compared to his game at his peak and his value wasn’t close to his scheduled salary of $8 million.
Still, many bemoaned the Titans cutting him, often on the grounds of having no one left behind who is a known quantity by the NFL fan population at large.
“That’s kind of a tricky answer,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When you classify a player as a star, is that stat-driven? Is that perception by somebody outside? I think if you watch a Tennessee Titans football game and you watch Jurrell Casey or you watch Kendall Wright, you have a tremendous amount of respect for the way those guys play.
“I’m just using those two guys as an example. Derrick Morgan could, obviously, fit into that, as could (Michael) Griffin and (Bernard) Pollard, and I could continue to name them. Now, whether they’re considered stars in fantasy stats, or whether they’re considered stars by all of these experts that are out there, I don’t know.
“I consider them to be good football players. I think the thing that we judge, or the way that I judge it, is the respect they have when you put that tape on. I feel like we have a lot of those players on this football team, good football players. Maybe, I guess the long answer to the question is, maybe the star comes after you have success.”
The face of a franchise doesn’t have to be a star, but I think on most teams it is.
Who’s the face of this franchise?
I’ve only got five slots in a poll and I’ve got a strong feel for whom I believe it is. But I want to hear from you first. So please cast a vote.
Of the Titans’ top six pass-catchers right now, no two really look alike. That’s a nice feature to have, that variety.
A run through, in roughly their order of importance and quality:
WR Kendall Wright: An excellent slot guy who’s shifty and fast enough to cause problems. Ken Whisenhunt is likely to line him up outside, too, and to send him on more than just underneath stuff. He was dynamic downfield and can add that to his NFL game.
Backup situation: There is no one else like him on this team, though Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington could do a bit of what Wright does.
Backup situation: The Titans don't have another all-around receiver who's proven himself over a long career.
WR Justin Hunter: The blazing downfield X receiver who should be threatening and stretching defenses even when the ball is not coming his way. He had a catch in the camp opener Saturday that is the sort the team hopes he can make with regularity -- climbing over Coty Sensabaugh and collecting a pass on the boundary.
Backup situation: No one else among the receivers has speed in the same range as Hunter.
TE Delanie Walker: A tough and athletic tight end who can muscle his way to success. The Titans feel he gives them mismatch opportunities, as he can outrun a linebacker and overpower a defensive back.
Backup situation: Craig Stevens is a better pass-catcher than he was given a chance to show last season, but he's not in Walker's class. Taylor Thompson should be at least OK in the department, but is no roster lock yet.
RB Dexter McCluster: More quick than fast (though he says he’s both), he’s just 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. He has played more receiver than running back in his first four years in the league. He’ll get shots to lone up in the slot or to motion there, but he’ll come out of the backfield and give the Titans far better receiver skills than Chris Johnson showed in recent years.
Backup situation: Leon Washington can do some of the same things, but doesn't match McCluster's quickness.
RB Bishop Sankey: Projects to be the Titans best all-around back once he learns the ropes. He’s completely comfortable as a pass-catcher, and while not likely as dynamic as McCluster, defenses will have to account for the possibility of him working as a receiver when he’s on the field.
Backup situation: If he went down, McCluster would likely catch even more passes. And Shonn Greene would be expected to do a bit more in the area.
“It’s become a matchup game, and you’re trying to create those mismatches,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We have a number of guys that we feel can do that, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get some guys that step up during camp in those backup roles that we have confidence can do that.
“When you get to the season, it’s more about week to week, what their roles are. If we don’t have somebody, then we’re going to lean more heavily on some of the others that we know what they can do.”
“I’ll give you the perfect example. Wide receiver that we had in San Diego last year, Tutu (Seyi Ajirotutu) wasn’t even on our team at the start of the season. We’re playing Kansas City in a critical game late in the year, on the last play of the game in a 2-minute situation as an X, he catches the touchdown pass. You never would have expected that to win the game, but that’s what this league’s all about. He came in, he showed up, earned more trust from the quarterback, and he made a play for us.”
The Titans are going to throw downfield more, and they will be counting on Hunter to make a big contribution as they expand in that department.
That, in turn, will help create opportunities underneath.
“Wideouts may not be wide open down the field, but we can leak out and still make plays out of the backfield,” McCluster said.
In 2-minute drills, Whisenhunt expects McCluster and the backs to be big contributors as well.
“If you’re efficient with that, a lot of times the back is going to make big chucks for you,” Whisenhunt said. “If the down-the-field throws aren’t there, they are playing off coverage, if you can do that it’s big. It takes discipline. But we’re working at it.”
NFL Nation's Paul Kuharsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Tennessee Titans heading into training camp.
Jake Locker: It’s now or never for the Titans’ quarterback, at least in Tennessee. The fourth-year quarterback started last season well, then he got hurt, didn’t shine when he came back and ultimately suffered another season-ending injury. Now he’s got his third offensive coordinator in Jason Michael and a new playcaller and head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.
The Titans would love to see him blossom into the player they thought he could be when they tabbed him eighth overall in 2011. But they began to line up a contingency plan for beyond 2014 when they drafted LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round.
The team declined to execute Locker’s option for 2015, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He needs to prove himself worthy of a new contract or the Titans will be prepared to go a different direction next season -- or maybe even sooner.
Things are set up for him to succeed with an upgraded coaching staff, a running game that should be better with a committee instead of Chris Johnson’s deteriorating vision, a reshaped defense and what should be a far easier schedule. But plenty of league insiders and outside critics have little faith Locker can be an effective long-term starter on a winning team.
The new 3-4 defense: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will bring people from different spots and has some rushers who can play as deeper outside linebackers or line up in a three-point stance as if they are defensive ends. We don’t know if they added enough, but out of Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips, converted end Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers, there could be ample edge rush.
The team’s best defensive player, DT Jurrell Casey, will now be playing a lot on a three-man line. But the Titans promise his duties will not change much and say he actually will get more one-on-ones -- because offenses won’t be able to help on him before getting to a linebacker who will be at the line of scrimmage a lot sooner.
Horton quickly won the respect of the team based on his fine résumé and calm but purposeful no-nonsense demeanor. He said small guys who can hit and big guys who can run will have a major say in whether the Titans are successful.
Houston and Indianapolis made the playoffs in their first seasons following recent transitions to a 3-4. The Titans know the scheme change doesn’t buy them patience.
Whisenhunt’s weapons: The Titans signed pint-size Dexter McCluster to be a weapon in Whisenhunt’s offense. McCluster played receiver and running back in Kansas City, but the Titans will look to him as part of the backfield committee, where he figures to catch a lot of passes coming out of the backfield.
Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in the draft and should be a more direct, decisive back than Johnson, though he certainly doesn’t bring CJ’s speed. Shonn Greene will have short-yardage chances. Are those three enough to take heat off the passing game?
The Titans are counting on a big jump from blazing outside receiver Justin Hunter. Kendall Wright was the best player on offense. And while Nate Washington is aging, he has been dependable and productive. Along with tight end Delanie Walker there are options for Whisenhunt to be inventive with, but we don’t know what will work.
As he gets ready for camp, Titans receiver Kendall Wright worked out at Baylor with Robert Griffin III, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Former Titans defensive lineman Dave Ball has pledged to clean up his language in his second season as a high school assistant coach, says Wyatt.
Zach Mettenberger looks more like a second- or third-round talent than a sixth-round pick, says R. Kyle Harris of Music City Miracles.
The Titans had 12 open practices the past two seasons and are down to eight for this year’s training camp, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
To which I say: Get used to less of a view of the Titans, for yourself and through the media. Ken Whisenhunt is far more secretive than Jeff Fisher and Mike Munchak were.
“The most important thing about (Avery) Williamson is he gives the Titans a different type of linebacker, one they didn’t have on their current roster. Whatever their more specific strengths and weaknesses, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, and Wesley Woodyard are all primarily space players who need to be protected and shouldn’t be expected to have success if they have to consistently take on and fight through defenders. Moving to a 3-4 defense, even the Ray Horton one-gap version of it, the Titans needed a more physical inside linebacker.” Tom Gower of Total Titans on the Titans newest linebacker.
But there are so many quality receivers in the NFL, and many of them play with quarterbacks with better outlooks than Jake Locker.
I'd love to have him on my team when I draft a fantasy side, though the Displaced Yanks have yet to win a title so what I'd do should mean nothing to anyone who wants to win.
ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry included several nuggets about Wright in his recent piece, "A hundred fantasy football facts."
89. Over the final eight weeks of the season, only four wide receivers had more receptions than Kendall Wright's 51: Pierre Garcon, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Andre Johnson.
90. Wright caught 67.1 percent of his targets over that span, fourth among the 31 wideouts who had at least 50 targets.
91. Only nine wide receivers had at least 90 receptions last year. Eight of them had at least five touchdowns, with an average of nine scores per player. The ninth, Kendall Wright, had two.
92. Give Kendall Wright five total touchdowns instead of two (and assume the three touchdowns are at least a total of 10 yards combined), and he's a top-20 wide receiver tied with T.Y. Hilton and Torrey Smith.
All of which amounts to Berry having a good feeling for what Wright can do in 2014. The fantasy element is a bonus. If he has good numbers there, he'll be helping the Titans in a big way.
As we've discussed, while the old staff loved Wright, Mike Munchak and Dowell Loggains didn't send him deep very often. I expect his career yards per catch of 10.8 to jump under Ken Whisenhunt and Jason Michael.
Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson says Wright gives the Titans the best of both worlds -- he's an excellent slot receiver who is comfortable and effective lining up outside.
As for creative use of Wright, he said one day in minicamp he'd even been worked at quarterback.
The Titans haven’t fared so well on lists.
This upsets some fans, but they need to be honest with themselves. Tennessee doesn’t have much star power, and star power is what gets teams and players on lists.
Pat Kirwan’s parallel list at CBS Sports doesn’t include Casey or anyone on the Titans. Tennessee, Oakland and Jacksonville are not represented on Kirwan’s list.
Kendall Wright is the Titans other best player, but there are a ton of very good receivers in the league and I think it’s understandable that he doesn’t yet rate high enough in that subset to make lists like these.
I suspect he’ll be on them in a year.
As we’ve said time and time again, the Titans need additional guys to develop into star-caliber players in order to make a jump.
They have some candidates to do it.
The jump is what’s important. If they get that, spots on lists -- which make for fun reads but don’t mean much -- will be part of what comes with it.